'Jewish Israel donations must be split equally among Arabs'

Opinion: NGO head argues ahead of GA that Jewish philanthropy has critical role to play in struggle for democracy for all, including Arab citizens.

Arab village 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Arab village 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Childhood memories from the 1980's conjure up images of Jewish National Fund certificates, issued in my great grandfather’s name, hanging over the dining table in my parents' home in Israel. As a child, I looked at these impressive JNF certificates every day, meal after meal, and they helped anchor my family's connections – and that of Diaspora Jewry- to the settlement of Israel.
Such reminders of the bond between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are still around, although they have changed somewhat. My parents in law live in a Moshav in southern Israel. Evident there almost everywhere - from libraries to irrigation systems - is the massive donor commitment of major Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Agency and the JNF. Unlike the modest certificates of the past, the certificates are large and ostentatious.
Still, they point at the continuing investment by the Diaspora in the Jewish communities in Israel.
But donations flowing to Israel from abroad rarely reach Israel's Arab communities, which I often travel to for my work. Their towns and villages are poor, underdeveloped, lacking adequate infrastructure and unable to provide the most basic services –a result of the state's long-standing discriminatory policies, which fail to provide Arab citizens with a fair share of state resources.
Jewish donors give primarily to Jewish communities and organizations; their generosity rarely shines on Israel's Arab communities. These communities are hence bereft of both government and philanthropic investment. The unequal distribution of philanthropic resources compounds the budgetary discrimination in the distribution of state resources. Private contributions to Israel amount to $2.5 billion per year, approximately 6 percent of net government expenditures. This is a significant sum, which aggravates the inequality, also because philanthropy tends to focus only on particular areas.
The historical reasons why Jewish philanthropy invests mainly in Jewish communities are obvious. However, the practical implications of this policy are deeply disquieting. It may not be easy to hear but the truth must be said: The exclusive allocation of Jewish donations from abroad to Jewish Israelis deepens the inequality between Jewish and Arab citizens which is one of the significant causes of the alienation and frustration that Arab citizens express toward the state and its Jewish citizens.
But why should Jews give to non-Jews in Israel? It is because the state of Israel cannot be a stable, safe, and morally based democracy if minority representing 20% of the population continues to suffer from discrimination and inequality.
Indeed, some Jewish institutional leaders understand this, and therefore, they have begun to demand that funds be divided equally among all Israelis.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues has taken a dominant and important leading position in educating American Jewry on these issues, pointing in the right direction.
In Israel, a titanic struggle is now taking place between the forces that seek to promote democracy and equality and the forces that aim to deepen the inequality and separation between Jewish and Arab citizens. The latter act by various means to maintain discriminatory practices against Arab citizens; deprive Arab citizens of their right to citizenship, or to attach discriminatory conditions to this citizenship. One example is the Loyalty Act that passed a government vote this week. The democratic camp is struggling to protect Israel’s fragile democracy, and demanding for both unconditional equality in the allocation of resources and actual equality to all citizens – without distinction between Jews and Arabs.
Jewish philanthropy has a critical role to play in this struggle. Standing on the side, let alone maintaining the almost exclusive flow of resources to Jewish citizens, will widen the gaps and further escalate the internal conflict between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. This is a tremendous challenge facing Jewish philanthropy, perhaps the greatest in its history. Can this challenge be met?
Ron Gerlitz is co-executive director of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.
Click for full Jpost coverage of the GA 2010
Click for full Jpost coverage of the GA 2010